Sergio Ramos and a career defined by character over success
He will go down as a legend for both club and country, and rightly so. Sergio Ramos has enjoyed incredible success at the very highest level in the colours of Real Madrid and Spain, but his reputation for petulance and ill-discipline will define his career, and his latest act has finally confirmed his place in La Liga's unenviable list of tarnished names.
On Sunday evening, Real Madrid began the defence of their La Liga title with a comfortable 3-0 win away to Deportivo La Coruna. Despite the absence of the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, the result was never really in doubt once Gareth Bale had opened the scoring.
Once again, Casemiro marauded forward from midfield to add to his Los Blancos' goal tally, while Isco was again at his sublime best in his free role behind the front two.
But instead of focusing on the impact and influence of the forward line, the defence once again became the talk of the Spanish capital, as captain Sergio Ramos picked up his 18th red card to equal the all-time La Liga record.
It was also his 23rd dismissal in the colours of Real Madrid, averaging just under two red cards a season, every season, since his arrival from Sevilla in 2005. He has also received 147, yes – 147, yellow cards.
Ramos once again protested against the decision to the hungry ears of the post-match press and media, but he is a marked-man in La Liga, and he does not do himself any favours with his continuing displays of petulance.
Opposition players know that he is an easy target to irritate during the course of the match, but there is no excuse for his reactions, and at the age of 31 there is no chance of him changing now.
By comparison, Ramos has never been sent off in over 140 games for Spain. It is a bizarre statistic compared against that of his club, but Ramos has reversed the blame for this anomaly onto La Liga officials. The departure of Iker Casillas elevated Ramos to alpha status at the Santiago Bernabeu, and he has since captained the club to domestic and European success.
It is easy to criticise Ramos despite his proven success and obvious talent. His discipline appears to be a significant flaw in his character, but many of the greatest players have had to battle against the same demons. The actions of the likes of Roy Keane, Eric Cantona, and most famously, Zinedine Zidane, have made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
But these players needed that edge to make them what they were in terms of how they could influence a match, and taking that element away from their game would also take away a key part of the character that made them such determined winners at all costs. Of course, many of these tarnished greats over-stepped the line, but ultimately, in retirement, they are remembered for their positive contributions.
Zidane now has the responsibility for managing Ramos and his discipline, or lack of it, but he understands the mentality that sparks his captain to react to situations the way he does. In every retaliation, somewhere in Zidane's mind is a flashback to the 2006 World Cup final, the match that brought his playing career to a close with one of the most famous red card offences in the history of the game.
Real Madrid are enjoying domestic and European domination at the present time, and as Barcelona enter a period of transition under Ernesto Valverde, their success is likely to continue. While Ramos has regularly forced his way out of the team through suspension, his actions cannot be considered significant in deciding the fortunes of his side.
An inspirational captain, Ramos is also a replaceable commodity for Real Madrid in La Liga, as teams regularly setup to frustrate the champions, rather than take the game to them. His experience is more important in the UEFA Champions League, and his goals have proved equally valuable in key games, but defensively, Real Madrid have enough to compensate for his absence most of the time.
Already the holder of the most red cards in Real Madrid history, Ramos is well on-course to became the most ill-disciplined player in the history of La Liga.
For a player captaining a team that dominates so many games this is an embarrassing statistic, but for Ramos, the number of medals he has won carries far more weight when measuring these career statistics against each other.
It would be interesting to know how Real Madrid would deal with a newcomer who displayed the same ill-discipline as Ramos, and if he would be awarded the same patience. The answer is of course no. Not even a new Galactico would be afforded the same untouchable status of Ramos. It is his privilege, and once his latest suspension has been served, he will return to the starting line-up with immediate effect.
The pressures of playing at the Santiago Bernabeu and representing the side from the Spanish capital are unique, but Sergio Ramos is a unique player. As a defender he is a defensive rock, and his goal contribution rivals that of any midfielder, especially given his uncanny knack of scoring key goals late in the game. He is a natural leader and inspiration, and a defining figure in the current era. But he is, and always will be, his own worst enemy.